Two recent reports on how well (or otherwise) prescription and counter-top drugs prevent disease caught my eye this week.
The first outlined a longitudinal study comparing the effectiveness of drugs vs. vitamins in preventing disease, and concluded that during the 27 year period of the study, there had been .
The second investigated the impact of aspirin-taking in women as a means of warding off heart attacks and strokes. The results? It was found that fifty women would have to be treated with aspirin over the course of ten years in order to prevent just one ‘cardiovascular event’. So, forty-nine women would take aspirin for ten years without any benefit – and with an increased risk of side-effects (aspirin consumption is known to increase the risk of bleeding in the gut). The study authors concluded: “Aspirin was ineffective or even harmful in the majority of patients.”
Aren’t these findings similar to those around intake of statins as a means of lowering cholesterol? A study last year which looked at more than 65,000 people concluded that in primary prevention, statins don’t reduce the risk of death. Another study from a couple of years earlier reached similar conclusions, showing that: in high-risk men between the ages of 30-69, and for all men over the age of 70, fifty of them would need to be treated with statins for five years in order to prevent one cardiovascular event; and for women, there was no evidence of reduced risk of cardiovascular events from statin treatments.
Like aspirin, statins are known to have undesirable side-effects: kidney failure; liver damage; and muscle weakness. Furthermore, there is growing speculation that when statins are effective – that “one case in fifty” – it may have more to do with their slightly anti-inflammatory properties rather than their inherent pharmaceutical purpose.
So, whilst undoubtedly often playing an important role in the treatment of acute and chronic medical conditions, do drugs prevent disease? Not always effectively, according to these studies.
What can prevent disease? Could it be something as radical as avoiding impaired blood-flow in the first place (instead of trying to thin the blood with aspirin), and avoiding the inflammation that can oxidize cholesterol and damage arterial walls (instead of trying to artificially lower cholesterol levels with statins)? Let’s look at it another way – we don’t take “preventative” drugs like aspirin and statins because our bodies are suffering from a deficit in these substances; we take them as a way of countering a condition (blood clotting; arterial damage) that we’ve deemed to be undesirable and that has an underlying cause that these drugs can’t hope to treat.
Could this be why vitamin supplementation – although not universally acknowledged as an entirely safe practice – could be a safer option where there are deficits? An imbalance of the omega 3:6 fat ratio in the blood, for example, is known to promote inflammation, which is, in turn, known to promote cardiovascular disease. It follows then that supplementing with additional omega 3 fats in the form of whole fish or high-quality cod-liver oils could have a beneficial effect, because it corrects the deficit.
Could this also be why herbal medicine – often decried by the “conventional” medical establishment as quackery – could have something very relevant to offer the field of preventative medicine? As an example, white willow bark is known to have similar pain-killing properties to aspirin, but because it doesn’t have the same blood-thinning qualities, is far gentler on the stomach and less likely to cause intestinal bleeding.
They say that prevention is better than cure – and it is possible to prevent many conditions. But do drugs prevent disease? Perhaps not as effectively as lifestyle, diet, and sensible supplementation.
- Herbal helpers
- Cooling inflammation with the paleo diet
- Fish oils
- Preventing heart disease with the paleo diet
- Essential supplements
If you found this article useful, please click the ‘LIKE’ button below to share on Facebook. We also invite you to leave comments, and join the Paleo Diet News discussion!